Senior Bowl spring cleaning commences as head scout Brent Sobleski takes time to revisit his conversations with Slippery Rock’s center, Brandon Fusco, and the team’s head coach, George Mihalik, during their visit to Mobile.
Jahri Evans, Reggie Wells, John Kuhn, and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah all played their collegiate careers in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. Slippery Rock’s Fusco is next in line as the National Football League beckons. Half of the league’s scouts already made multiple trips to the university nestled an hour north of Pittsburgh.
The achievement of a Division II athlete to make his way to Mobile is extraordinary. Northwestern Missouri State’s Seth Wand was the last to do so in 2003. Wand became a third round selection by the Houston Texans.
Fusco realized and relished the opportunity.
“It means a lot,” he exclaimed. “I’m the first player to be here in Mobile, Alabama. I come from a great program and tradition. It’s hardnosed football. I hope I’m making everyone proud back home. I get a ton of text messages and calls. Everyone says they’re proud and tell me good luck. I’m proud of myself and so is my family.
“My agent called me over the phone as I was sitting with my friends eating lunch. He said I was in the Senior Bowl. I couldn’t believe it. I was ecstatic. I had to call my family. I never really pictured myself being down here. I’m just taking it all in right now. I can’t believe I’m on the same field as all of these guys who were on tv all of the time. It’s a blessing and a honor.”
Mihalik reiterated his player’s response.
“Total excitement,” the veteran coach of 25 years stated. “We were ecstatic. The first guy in the history of our university to be invited to the Senior Bowl. All the scouts when they came through in the fall, they said he would be probably be invited to the other all-star games, and maybe the Senior Bowl. ‘But if he gets to the Senior Bowl, coach, that’s big time.’ When it came through, I realized some people see things in Brandon and feel he belongs here.”
The highly rated pivot discussed the process he endured throughout the week under the tight scrutiny of scouts and NFL evaluators while admitting to being apprehensive.
“I came in Sunday and met some of the scouts,” Fusco explained. “I started meeting a lot of the guys. It was a great experience meeting all of these guys. You start to form friendships and hope to communicate with them for the rest of my career. Monday was the first practice. I was a little nervous and anxious at the same time. Once I got that first hit out of the way, the butterflies were gone. I was then ready to go. I knew I belonged here. Days two and three were all about getting better and better.
“The butterflies were normal. I played at a smaller school. These guys are big, strong and fast. It will get you a little nervous, but I held my own. I feel I’m right there with all of them.
“The first day of practice was a little rough. It took me a couple plays to get used to it. Now, I think I fit right in with all of these guys. I’m more fluid in my punches and technique. I’ve gotten used to the speed of the game and the strength. I just wanted to get better and better every day.”
DraftInsider.net noted his improving performance throughout the week.
|Brandon Fusco||OL||Slippery Rock||6041||302||33 ¾||9 7/8|
|Monday Practice Notes: Fundamentally very sound yet really needs to improve his strength. Stays square and controls opponents but lacks the dominant base and at times was push back into the pocket.|
|Tuesday Practice Notes: A tough day was had by the small school prospect. Fusco was getting some stalemates against strong interior defenders, but he was not prepared for quicker opponents. He tried to overcompensate and was caught playing over his toes and reaching far too often.|
|Wednesday Practice Notes: Fusco has improved each day. While he was coached up about pad level once again, his timing off the snap was much better against higher rated defensive linemen. He was very strong in small areas and really bowed up against powerful interior defenders.|
|Analysis: Scouts were impressed with Fusco both on and off the field as they got a closer look at the Slippery Rock product. Coming from the Div.II level, the center admitted to being surprised by the quickness of his competition early in the week. He adjusted, continued to work very hard, and got better each practice. All good signs. His athleticism and ability to step off the snap also made him the best pure center prospect during the week (although the pivot class in Mobile was generally considered weak)|
“I think I’ve done a lot better,” he commented. “The techniques with my hand placement, punches, and knee bend are getting a lot better. I’m still getting used to the speed and the strength. I’m happy with the progression I’ve shown.
“It (Fusco’s knee bend) was questioned coming in. Coach (Cincinnati’s Paul Alexander) saw that right off the bat. It’s something I work on every day, and believe I’m getting a lot better. Bending and hand placement were important factors to work on for me.”
NFL personnel took notice of Fusco’s work ethic one night when he was quietly sitting with his former head coach breaking down film late in the evening.
Mihalik raves about the player his center is, but more importantly the person he is off the field. He made sure to endure the trip in support and experience everything.
“I’m on cloud nine,” the coach beamed. “Personally, I’ve seen a young guy who came into our program and grew up as a man first and foremost. Then, he grew up as a great football player. He’s worked hard for this opportunity. I really believe he is proving that he does belong.
“We’ve been here every minute we could at practice. It’s just a rewarding experience to watch that Slippery Rock helmet line up by the Wisconsin’s and against the Notre Dame’s. That is something you just don’t expect. I tried to talk to a lot of the scouts, many of whom I saw when they came through in the fall. They like what they see. They make comments about him. I’m just trying to be that fly on the wall in the shadows absorbing everything I can. More so, my chest is puffed out being so proud.”
In a draft class which lacks pure center prospects, Fusco finds himself atop the heap. The product from the Rock discussed his relative strengths and weaknesses.
“I think my speed and the fact I’m a little taller than most centers, that makes me a little unique,” he described. “I’m a little over 6-4, and you see centers in the league that are closer to 6-2 or 6-3. That’s an advantage to me. I’m a real aggressive player. I love getting after it on the field. I don’t think about anything else on the field. I focus purely on football. Anything outside, I just forget about until practice is over.
In fact NFL decision makers are moving towards larger centers to counteract the league’s massive nose tackles. Alex Mack, Eric Wood, and Maurkice Pouncey were first round selections during the last two drafts. Each is listed at 6-4. The position’s perceived body type is shifting.
As the two reflected on the entire week in Alabama, the draft is not too far off as the Combine quickly nears. Both are taking everything in stride and have come to the realization exactly what everything entails.
“It became more of a reality instead of just a dream,” Fusco mentioned. “Of course it’s been a dream to play in the NFL since I was a little kid. With all those scouts coming in every day and coach calling me to come down to the office, it was great and I made sure to enjoy it.
Mihalik built on Fusco’s interpretation.
“Your dreams can come true even in Division II football,” he expressed. “You dont’ have to be a DI player to get this opportunity. You do have to dominate at that level of program, which Brandon did.”